We live in interesting times. I don’t want to call them hard times because I don’t think that is very intellectually honest. In most ways we have it easier than any generation before us. We have advantages and wealth, that no time period has ever had. Frankly we even have more peace than pretty much any period in history.
The one place this might not be true, although I would need further study, is mental health. At the very least we can say that it has not improved over the last few years and certainly not in the 2020 during COVID.
I knew this would be true of singles, having been single until I was 40, and I offered some thoughts here. Might be worth a read. I also knew that it would impact kids, and I’ll have more to say on that later.
But today I want to look at an interesting statistic from a recent Gallup Poll. Now if you read through this study, you see lots of interesting things. You can see we’ve got things to work on from looking at the starting point for each demographic and how they compare. But today I want to focus on something really interesting in relation to the Church.
Across all demographics (race, gender, age, income, etc) the overall mental health of the group went down during the last year. Which makes perfect sense. Except for one demographic. Weekly religious service attenders. They reported a mental health result of positive 4 points. In other words those who attend service weekly got more mentally healthy during the events of 2020.
Now there are all types of conclusions we can’t draw from that. But here’s what I think is fair to say, going to church matters.
I had times in my life where I thought it didn’t really matter. Especially when I was a younger single person***.
I was in full time ministry. I had fellowship with a lot of people. Frankly I’d been discipled by non full-time ministry people. In fact that’s still true for the most part. Most of what I’ve learned about ministry, fellowship, accountability, prayer, giving money, has happened outside the institutional church. All of it. And I don’t think that’s bad. But, if that’s true, then why do we need Sunday Service?
I want to offer up some reasons. But first let me point out some things that are abundantly clear. First, we are not created to do this walk with Jesus alone. Even if you are called to celibacy for the Kingdom, or for some other reason, you are not meant to do it alone. It might occasionally work out ok, but it’s not best and it’s not what we are called to do.
Let’s also point out that it’s obviously not working. We have all of these folks who are spiritual but not religious. Or they’re “Christian” but not connected to the Church. How is that really working out? It seems to me that we’re the ones being converted away from the truth and that’s part of the reason why. It’s a lot easier to go away from God when you are your own church. I don’t need the institution we say. What we often mean is I want to do all of this my way.
Now I get that lots of people have been hurt by the Church and the people who run it. Believe me I get it. I’ve been significantly hurt by it too. I’ve been hurt far less than many but my guess is more than most. So why then does it matter if I’m connected at all and even more so why should I go on Sunday?
The first step is to realize what Sunday is for. In other words what is the point of the Sunday service. We need to get a grip on this because it sets our expectations and impacts our experience. Church is not for our entertainment or comfort. It’s not so that we can sing the song we want (although that’s certainly nice). It’s not so we can hear the perfect sermon by the perfect pastor. It’s actually not for community in the hang out deep fellowship way. And it’s not even really an outreach event, although certainly non believers should be welcomed, loved and some will respond.
What it is for first of all is God. We come together each Sunday to be in His presence and to worship Him. We remember each Sunday that Jesus rose on the third day. He’s alive. Church is not a funeral service for Jesus. It’s the opposite. It’s also a place where we hear from the scriptures. Each week, at least once a week, we should hear from the inerrant, infallible word that God has given us. We encounter Jesus in this. Not in the eloquence of the speaker, but in the words of the scripture.
We also have the chance to encounter Jesus in the sacrament of communion. Now I know that different churches believe different things about this. But at the least it’s a weekly, or regular reminder of what Jesus did and what He offers us. I’d suggest that it is far more than that. It is a chance to encounter the living Jesus and His grace for us. You can’t really get that at home. Or online for that matter.
But there’s more. It also gives us a life rhythm. One that God set up from the beginning. That we keep one day holy for Him. God doesn’t set any of the commands up arbitrarily. He does it to help us. My question is, and I’ve had to ask my self this many times, do I not have one hour to give just to God? Regardless of how “good” the service is that day?
This rhythm matters. And I think that’s why the Gallup poll demonstrates it. It helps us spiritually to be sure. But it also helps us emotionally and mentally. It’s part of the rhythm that God created us for.
So, two challenges to two groups of people today.
Church leaders here’s yours. You need to have Sunday Service . . . in person. There I said it. It’s what your people need. And they need it now. Too many of you have convinced yourselves that online is enough. It’s not. Not everyone can or should come right now. But it can be done. It’s being done. Step up. Quit trying to please everyone. Lead! Take precautions or whatever, but lead. It’s time to go back. If it doesn’t matter now, when exactly does it matter?
And to the average person reading this here’s yours. Consider giving an hour of your Sunday to God. In person. Face the hurt and frustration. Face the marginal sermon and the bad music if necessary. Do it for Him. Do it out of obedience. Do it for your own health.
*** One of the hardest things to do as a single person is go to church. I get it. Here are a few links that might help.
Single church survival